ONE of the two biggest local news stories on Aug. 12, 1988 was the walkout staged by Chinese garment workers at a San Vicente victory. They were demanding the safe return of a co-worker who, they said, was taken away by security guards and threatened immediate deportation. The workers were also crowded around another of their co-workers for protection. She “had walked out of the factory earlier in the evening and her friends would not let anyone near her, fearful of her deportation and her safety.”
Variety reported that the protesting workers waited for hours for the return of the co-worker who they believed was already taken to the airport. But just before 10 p.m., their co-worker was returned to the factory by police escort, and he was “crying and shouting with joy….” He told Variety, “I don’t know why they take me. Maybe send [me back to] China.”
Also at the scene was a CNMI assistant attorney general who was, let’s just say, not amused. “This is not Hong Kong,” he said, “this is not Moscow, this is not Beijing. This is the United States of America and employees are going to be treated in a humane and dignified manner.”
The assistant AG also told the security guards that he “will have this matter investigated and I guarantee that you will be arrested and put in jail — I do not want you to touch any of the employees and if I hear any of you touching any of the employees that I will personally see to it that you are immediately arrested and placed in jail.”
For his part, the deputy director of the then-Commerce and Labor Department said they were investigating the incident.
Variety learned that the factory was owned by Hong Kong residents who were citizens of the United Kingdom. The factory manager, also from Hong Kong, declined to comment. Prior to the workers’ walkout, one of them, H.D., had an argument with the manager over overtime policies which the workers said were unfair. The manager then directed a security guard to remove H.D. from the compound. H.D. was brought to the security company’s office in San Antonio. But the CNMI AG’s office, through one of its assistant AG’s, told the factory manager and the chief of the security company, “in no uncertain terms, that unless [the worker] was returned to the factory soon, it could be a case of false imprisonment or kidnapping.” The factory manager, as they say, “saw the light,” and H.D. was brought back to the factory.
Through an interpreter, one of the workers told Variety that they were not unhappy with their jobs, but were concerned for H.D.’s safety. “Owners spend money on building, land, bring workers here. Low wages in China; pay higher here than in China.”
It was our intrepid editor, David T. Hughes, who covered the walkout at the factory. But he was “prevented from taking pictures and then handcuffed by a team of security guards as he attempted to leave the site.”
Later that week, in MV’s 44-page Friday edition, David wrote in his weekly column that instead of discussing the “goons who assaulted me at a local garment factory,” he would talk about “the efforts of a tiny group of garment workers to protect a friend…. I feel what they did…is a lesson to us all about sticking together against a common foe — TYRANNY.” David then commended the CNMI AG’s office for its willingness “to do what’s needed.” He said the responding police officers, for their part, were “quite angry at the incident,” and there was “a lot of police radio traffic while they were trying to find the abducted man. (Good job, guys…)”
David added, “We have faith in the judicial system here. Abusers will face the law and be punished.” He said other workers planning to stage a protest should call the media first. “WE will watch and report and then get your complaints into print and before the public….”
As for the other big news story of our Aug. 12, 1988 issue, the MV headline says it all:
ARSON: Presses torched
Five different fires set in press room
Offices ransacked, much stolen
“A newspaper usually reports the news…not become a part of the news,” MV stated. “But all that changed in the wee hours of Wednesday morning when arsonists broke into the offices of Younis Art Studio Inc. [dba MV] and set fire to the main press, stocks of paper and other machines.”
The arsonists wanted to stop the MV presses, literally.
On our editorial page in the same issue was an editorial cartoon drawn by our founding publisher, Abed E. Younis. It depicted a large blob of ink from the nib of a giant fountain pen which symbolized THE PRESS. The ink was about to drop on a small campfire while the person who started it was fleeing from the scene.
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